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Surface and Destroy

The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific

Michael Sturma

Publication Year: 2011

World War II submariners rarely experienced anything as exhilarating or horrifying as the surface gun attack. Between the ocean floor and the rolling whitecaps above, submarines patrolled a dark abyss in a fusion of silence, shadows, and steel, firing around eleven thousand torpedoes, sinking Japanese men-of-war and more than one thousand merchant ships. But the anonymity and simplicity of the stealthy torpedo attack hid the savagery of warfare—a stark difference from the brutality of the surface gun maneuver. As the submarine shot through the surface of the water, confined sailors scrambled through the hatches armed with large-caliber guns and met the enemy face-to-face. Surface and Destroy: The Submarine Gun War in the Pacific reveals the nature of submarine warfare in the Pacific Ocean during World War II and investigates the challenges of facing the enemy on the surface. The surface battle amplified the realities of war, bringing submariners into close contact with survivors and potential prisoners of war. As Japan’s larger ships disappeared from the Pacific theater, American submarines turned their attention to smaller craft such as patrol boats, schooners, sampans, and junks. Some officers refused to attack enemy vessels of questionable value, while others attacked reluctantly and tried to minimize casualties. Michael Sturma focuses on the submariners’ reactions and attitudes toward their victims, exploring the sailors’ personal standards of morality and their ability to wage total war. Surface and Destroy is a thorough analysis of the submariner experience and the effects of surface attacks on the war in the Pacific, offering a compelling study of the battles that became “intolerably personal.”

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

As they had during my previous research on World War II submarines, Charles Hinman and Nancy Richards of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor made me feel a welcome visitor. I owe special thanks to Charles for his assistance with many of the photos in this volume, ...

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pp. 1-8

For a submarine crew there was no maneuver more exhilarating, or more fear-inducing, than a surface gun action. Relying on surprise and speed, the submarine would suddenly punch through to the surface, while half-drenched sailors scrambled through the hatches to reach their guns and ammunition lockers. ...


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pp. 9

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1 Pearl Harbor

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pp. 11-24

The first American submarine gun actions of the war took place during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Tautog and the USS Narwhal, two of only five submarines in port at the time, shared credit with a destroyer for shooting down a low-flying Japanese torpedo plane. ...

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2 Trouble with Trawlers

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pp. 25-40

The survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor included Thomas Patrick McGrath, a crew member of the battleship USS California, which was sunk by two torpedoes. During the attack, an enraged McGrath had fired a pistol at Japanese dive-bombers from the California’s signal bridge. McGrath later declared, ...

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3 Wahoo

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pp. 41-49

The discovery of the USS Wahoo wreck in 2006 sent a ripple of excitement through naval history circles. The submarine went missing in October 1943, apparently sunk by a combination of Japanese planes and patrol ships while exiting the Sea of Japan. In July 2006 Russian divers located the wreck under ...

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4 Atrocities

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pp. 50-60

Mush Morton was not the only Allied submarine commander to order the shooting of survivors. Before the Wahoo’s assault on the Buyo Maru, the British submarine Torbay made analogous attacks in the Mediterranean. On its second patrol in the Aegean Sea during July 1941, the Torbay made a series ...


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pp. 61

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5 Sampans and Schooners

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pp. 63-72

At least one American officer had made a patrol with Tony Miers and his British submarine Torbay in the Mediterranean. Reginald Marbury “Reggie” Raymond graduated toward the top of his class at the Naval Academy in 1933 and later assisted Charles Lockwood, then serving as American naval attaché to Britain. ...

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6 Pickets and the Picayune

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pp. 73-88

The Allied submarine offensive continued to gather momentum during 1944, with Japan suffering its most catastrophic shipping losses of the war. In the first six months of the year U.S. submarines sank more than 300 enemy merchantmen, amounting to a million tons of shipping. By the end of the year ...

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7 Straits of Malacca

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pp. 89-100

Tony Miers, the former skipper of HMS Torbay whose exploits won him a Victoria Cross, arrived at Fremantle as British liaison officer in November 1943. He had sailed from Pearl Harbor on the USS Cabrilla, spending two months at sea with the American crew. In a letter to Admiral Claud Barrington Barry, ....

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8 Boarding Parties

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pp. 101-112

Like the British, the crews of U.S. submarines frequently made use of boarding parties. In the opening years of the war this most often involved inspecting craft in the aftermath of an attack with a view to retrieving any intelligence-worthy material or prisoners. After the USS Pompano attacked a patrol boat ...

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9 Mopping Up

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pp. 113-128

The USS Blenny epitomized the tactics adopted by submarines in the closing months of the war, departing Fremantle on 5 July 1945 to patrol the Java Sea and off the eastern coast of Malaya. The Blenny’s skipper, William Hazzard, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1935 and became one of the last in his class ...


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pp. 129

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10 Survivors

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pp. 131-145

The German U-boat skipper Reinhard Hardegen once observed, “We were waging war against merchant ships, not against the crews, and there is a great difference.”1 No doubt many submarine commanders agreed, but there was also a great difference between not actively trying to kill survivors and doing something ...

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11 Japanese Prisoners [Illustrations follow page 150]

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pp. 146-158

In the Hollywood movie Destination Tokyo, released shortly before Christmas in 1943, theatergoers were given a rare glimpse into the world of the “Silent Service.” The film, starring Cary Grant, focused on the fictional submarine Copperfin as it carried out a mission of reconnaissance for the Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo. ...

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12 Submarines and Bombers

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pp. 159-169

The moral and ethical dilemmas of World War II are encapsulated in the Allied bombing campaigns carried out against Germany and Japan. Over 99 percent of Japan’s civilian casualties were the result of air raids; by the end of the war, air attacks had killed 600,000 civilians.1 One of General Douglas MacArthur’s aides, ...

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pp. 170-178

Writing of Allied bomber attacks on Hamburg, Keith Lowe suggests that the Second World War might in some senses be framed as a battle between the urge to total destruction and the attempt to keep such extreme instincts in check.1 The submarine gun war exemplifies a similar battle between competing impulses. ...

Appendix: Submarine Gun Attacks in the Pacific, 1942–1945

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pp. 179-182


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pp. 183-218


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pp. 219-236


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pp. 237-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780813129990
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813129969

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Naval operations -- Submarine.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Naval operations, American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Pacific Ocean.
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